These loyal, affectionate dogs are one of most popular dog breeds in the US, so lots of you out there may well be asking yourselves this very question!
Keep reading to see a full nutritional guide on what a Golden Retriever needs in her diet, potential health problems, and how choosing the right dog food can help.
Top 4 dog foods for Golden Retrievers in 2018:
Our Nutrition Rating
Our Overall Rating
How many calories does my Golden Retriever need?
Golden Retrievers are large dogs that can weigh between 55 - 75 lb, with the females on the lower end of the spectrum.
An average Golden Retriever weighs 70 lb, which is the weight I have based the following calorie intake* estimations on:
*I worked out these calorie intakes using Dog Food Advisor’s calorie calculator. Consult with your vet to get an exact amount for your dog.
Common health problems in Golden Retrievers and how choosing the right food can help
Golden Retrievers have quite a few health concerns to be aware of when it comes to choosing the right food for them. Here they are, along with suggestions of what to look out for the next time you’re checking out that list of ingredients:
Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers are one of the dog breeds with the highest cancer rates. They are particularly prone to developing a type of cancer called lymphoma, which affects the immune system. They can also suffer from hemangiosarcoma, a tumor of blood vessel cells.
There are a few ways diet can help to ward off cancer:
- Don’t let her become overweight, as obesity leads to a higher risk of cancer.
- Feed her a low-carbohydrate dog food (no more than 20%), as the glucose in carbs can help feed cancer cells.
- Choose a dog food with high-quality protein
- Make sure she gets high levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- Choose a food that contains fresh fruits and vegetables, as these provide antioxidants which help fight off cancer
- Go for a food that is free from additives and colors, as these cause a buildup of toxins
Unfortunately, this degenerative condition occurs quite commonly in Golden Retrievers. On the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals database, this breed ranks #43 out of 183 dogs tested for hip dysplasia.
It occurs when the head of the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip socket, which can eventually lead to arthritic pain and even lameness.
Maintain a healthy weight in your Golden Retriever to keep strain off her joints. You can also look for two nutrients, called chondroitin and glucosamine, in dog food. These help to lessen joint pain as well as repair damaged cartilage.
Like Pitbulls, Golden Retrievers can really suffer with skin problems - poor things.
Their most common skin affliction is atopic dermatitis, an inflammatory skin disease that is red and itchy. You may see her licking her paws, biting at her legs or flanks, rubbing her face or scratching her ears.
To help reduce inflammation and ease the incessant itch, you can look for a dog food that contains fish oil or flaxseed oil. These oils are high in omega-3s, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Alternatively, you can get fish oil supplements for your dog - just break open the capsule and drizzle on top of your dog’s food.
As well as red, itchy skin, a sign that her skin condition may be related to a food allergy is if she has loose stools, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Since Goldens are so prone to skin irritation, and grains are common allergens, I recommend a grain-free diet for this breed. It is worth noting that beef, chicken, and dairy are also common allergens in dogs.
If your dog suffers from food allergies, it is also certainly worth trying a “limited ingredient” dog food to work out what foods she is allergic to.
Sub-aortic stenosis (SAS)
This is a genetic heart disease which can occur in Golden Retrievers. It occurs when the area underneath the aortic valve narrows, which can cause obstruction of blood flow to the heart, making the heart work harder.
In mild cases, there are usually no symptoms and no treatment is required. In severe cases, symptoms include difficulty breathing and fainting, and in extreme cases, sudden death.
There is no cure for this disease, but beta-blockers can help dogs with moderate to severe cases of the disease.
Your dog’s chances of developing this disease are multiplied if she is overweight or obese, so it is imperative to keep her at a normal weight. A diet low in salt is also very important, as excess salt causes water retention, worsening the fluid buildup that happens with heart failure.
Golden Retrievers are also prone to eye disorders, the most common being:
- Cataracts: opacity in the lens of the eye that clouds or blocks vision
- Progressive renal atrophy: a disease of the retina that causes progressive vision loss, starting with night blindness, and eventually, total blindness.
- Pigmentary Uveitis: Seen almost exclusively in Golden Retrievers, this is a serious disease causing inflammation of the eye, which can lead to glaucoma and blindness. It usually occurs in middle age.
As I mentioned in the article on the best dog food for Huskies, some nutrients can help your dog’s eyesight, which are found in large quantities in the following foods:
- Cold water fish like salmon and sardines
- Sweet potatoes
Unfortunately, I see a lot of obese Golden Retrievers. These dogs have quite an appetite and will keep eating and eating unless kept in check.
An obese dog Golden Retriever is even more at risk of joint problems, heart diseases, and cancer, to mention just a few.
To keep her at a healthy weight, look for a food that is low in carbohydrates (no more than 25%). A high-carb diet is a common cause of weight gain in dogs, as they get too many to be able to burn them all off (especially if they’re not very physically active). And, since carbs are easily converted to glucose, they get stored as fat.
Also, make sure you measure out her daily food allowance, don’t feed her scraps at the table, and give her adequate exercise (at least an hour a day.)
Bloat is a very serious condition that can occur in large breed dogs like Golden Retrievers, in which the stomach becomes twisted and bloated. It is usually caused by eating large quantities of food in one sitting or on doing exercise directly after eating. Another potential risk factor for bloat is the use of a raised dog bowl.
So, be sure to divide your dog’s meals into 2 or 3 a day, rather than feeding her all in one go, and use a dog bowl on the floor, not at eye level. Also, let her rest for at least 1 hour after eating.
Macronutrient needs for Golden Retrievers
Protein is a very important nutrient for your dog - it keeps her muscles strong, provides her with energy, and strengthens her immune system.
This breed is active, large, and muscular, so I recommend at least 25% protein. For highly active Goldens, about 30 - 35% will be enough. We don’t want to feed too much more, as it could lead to weight gain.
Ideally, the first two ingredients in your dog’s food should be sources of protein, and certainly not a carbohydrate, as that is a sure sign that it is a high-carb, low-quality food. Go for whole meats like beef, chicken, and fish, and avoid foods that contain meat by-products, as these are not as digestible and, therefore, are much less nutritious for your dog.
The recommended fat intake for adult dogs is between 9 - 15 % fat.
I think a Golden Retriever’s intake should be towards the higher end of the spectrum, at 15%, as they are active and will need a lot to use as energy, plus fat is essential for a dog’s skin and coat health. And Golden Retrievers are known for their lustrous and - yep! - golden coats. It is dense, double and often long.
Let’s admire it for a second:
OK, let’s get back to talking about fat. To keep this gorgeous coat shiny and healthy, make sure she gets a food that is high in omega fatty acids. The best sources of these are fish oils and flaxseed oil.
As Golden Retrievers are prone to weight gain - and, as we have seen, this can be very detrimental to a Golden’s health - I don’t recommend a dog food that has any more than 20% fat.
As I have already said, it is best to choose a dog food that focuses on high protein and low carbohydrates (under 25%), as dogs don't need a large amount of carbs, and it is a primary cause of weight gain.
For Golden Retrievers, go for a grain-free dog food that contains an alternative source of carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes or chickpeas.
Vitamins and minerals
Keep your Golden Retriever ultra healthy by providing her with the necessary vitamins and minerals she needs to support her immune system, fight off cancer, and support her eye function.
Thes best way she can get these nutrients is from a dog food that contains a variety of fruit and vegetables. Some dog foods use supplements instead, but whole foods are a better choice since they contain a variety of nutrients rather than one that has been isolated into supplement form.
What is the best dog food for Golden Retrievers?
I have chosen 4 dog foods that I think are a good match for Golden Retrievers, all of which are grain-free to prevent allergic reactions.
Here we go!
Taste of the Wild is a high-quality dog food, and I think this recipe is a great choice for typical Golden Retrievers, which is what got it to the number one spot.
Its macronutrient breakdown is ideal, with 25% protein and 15% fat. I chose this recipe as the protein comes from salmon and ocean fish meal; protein sources that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction in your dog. Plus, the use of smoked salmon makes it a very flavorsome food, so it’s good for enticing picky eaters.
The fat comes from canola oil, which is a very healthy source, as it is low in saturated fats, and high in omega-3s. Despite this, there are fewer omega-3s in comparison to other recipes in this review, which makes it a little less well-balanced.
There is a handful of fruit and veg, however, which I like to see for Golden Retrievers, as those antioxidants are essential to keep her healthy. Blueberries are included, which also provide essential nutrients for eye health.
This specific dog food does not include additional ingredients for a dog’s joint health, so if your Golden Retriever suffers from hip dysplasia or arthritis, I wouldn’t recommend this recipe.
- Good for typical Golden Retrievers
- Protein comes from fish - no beef or chicken
- Good choice for picky eaters
- A good handful of fruit and veg
- Contains ingredients that promote eye health
- Comparatively low in omega-3s
- No additional ingredients to support joints
Blue Buffalo is a high-quality brand that rarely disappoints me, and this recipe from Blue Buffalo Freedom is no exception.
I think it’s a great choice for Golden Retrievers who are older or less active; it may be slightly low in protein (22%) and fat (12%) for a typical Golden Retriever.
The protein content comes mainly from high-quality deboned lamb. There are many sources of fat, including chicken fat, and canola, flaxseed and fish oils, making it high in omega-3s, which will keep her coat looking healthy. It’s also a good choice if she suffers from skin irritation, as the omegas will act as anti-inflammatories.
There is a good range of fruit and veg in this recipe, and during the cooking process, Blue Buffalo preserves their potency by minimizing their exposure to heat. As a result, this food provides her with plenty of powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants. The use of blueberries and sweet potatoes in this formula also promote her eye health.
Lastly, this is a good choice for Golden Retrievers with joint problems, as it includes high amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin.
- High in omega-3s - nourishes coat and good for skin irritation
- Contains a good range of nutritious fruit and vegetables
- Contains ingredients that promote eye health
- Good for less active/senior Golden Retrievers
- Good choice for Golden Retrievers with joint problems
- May not be suitable for typical Golden Retrievers
Merrick is a brand that prides itself on high-protein, high-quality dog food, and it certainly seems popular among dog owners.
This recipe is quite high in protein, containing 34%, but the fat content is just under, at 14%. So, I think it suits active Golden Retrievers who get 1 - 1 ½ hours of exercise a day, but highly active or working dogs may need a touch more fat in their diets.
The protein content all comes from fish, so if your Golden is allergic to beef and chicken, this food is a good option. Salmon also has nutrients that help with your dog’s eyesight.
The fat sources are salmon oil and flaxseed oil; these oils provide omega fatty acids that nourish her skin and coat. However, there are less omega-3s compared to other brands.
Merrick throws in a few fruit and vegetables, including blueberries, which provide lots of antioxidants, helping her ward off eye diseases as well as cancer. However, it would be good to see some more whole food antioxidant sources in this recipe.
I think Merrick is a great choice for Golden Retrievers with joint troubles, as it provides very high levels of glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Protein comes from fish - good if your dog has allergies to beef and chicken
- Suitable for active Golden Retrievers
- Contains a few fruit and veg
- Contains ingredients that promote eye health
- Great choice for Golden Retrievers with joint problems
- Not suitable for typical Golden Retrievers
- Few omega-3s compared to other brands in this review
Wellness, in my opinion, is a great, high-quality brand that has a variety of different dog food formulas. This one is a “limited ingredient” dog food, specially developed for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies.
The only protein source is salmon, providing an ideal 25% protein, while the carbs come from potatoes. The fat content may be too low for typical Golden Retrievers, at 12%, so it is more suited to dogs who are less active, or those who are overweight.
The fat comes from flaxseed oil, a great source of omega-3s, and indeed this recipe is bursting with them. This makes it highly beneficial for Golden Retrievers with skin irritation, as those omegas will help soothe the itching and burning.
There are no added ingredients for joint health in this formula, so it’s not the one to go for if your dog suffers from joint problems.
There are a few vegetables, including tomatoes, peas, and potatoes. The rest of the antioxidants she needs are included in this dog food in supplement form. This is understandable in this recipe, however, since the idea of it is to include just one or two sources of each macronutrient. This way, it is easier to monitor what agrees with her and what doesn’t.
Lastly, there is no added salt in this dog food, which also makes it a good choice if your Golden Retriever needs to consume a low sodium diet for her heart health.
- Good choice for Golden Retrievers with food allergies
- Suitable for inactive/overweight Golden Retrievers
- High in omega-3s
- Contains a few fruit and vegetables
- No added salt
- Not suitable for typical Golden Retrievers
- No additional ingredients for joint health
So, in my opinion, Taste of the Wild is the top choice, as it has the best balance of macronutrients for Golden Retrievers.
Blue Buffalo Freedom is also a top-quality dog food and a great choice for senior and less active Golden Retrievers, containing a lovely amount of cancer-fighting, immune system-boosting antioxidants.
Lastly, Merrick is a great fit for active Golden Retrievers, providing support for their joints, while Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient is a very good option for Golden Retrievers who suffer from food allergies.
What do you feed your Golden Retriever? Leave a comment below!